I had an experience last summer that I have been pondering over for months trying to process my feelings around. My husband and I were invited to go to Las Vegas with a couple we’ve been friends with since college and one of the highlights of the trip was seeing Gwen Stefani’s residency show. If you’re not familiar with Gwen Stefani, she is the former lead singer of the ska band “No Doubt.” Their breakout hit — “I’m just a Girl” — put them on the popular music map back in the mid-90s. The song, co-written by Stefani, calls out the everyday sexism she’s sick and tired of – “I’ve had it up to here.”
When Stefani performed “I’m just a Girl” for her audience that night last summer I experienced something I have never experienced in my life. The audience was singing along with the song and Stefani stopped and had the audience repeat the chorus after her. When she sang, “I’m just a girl. I’m just a girl in the world,” we all followed. Then she asked for just the women in the audience to repeat the chorus after her and we gleefully obliged. Next she asked that just the men repeated after her singing, “I’m just a girl. I’m just a girl in the world.” During that moment I was, as my children say, shooketh.
This was the first time I had ever been in an audience anywhere where men were asked to identify as girls. Where men were able to call themselves girls without it demeaning their person or attacking their masculinity. It was only 10 seconds, but for me it was a powerful 10 seconds.
As women we are tasked on a daily basis to identify with the perspective of men. As women of the Church, all of our leaders with ecclesiastical authority are men. The scriptures we read were written by men about mostly men’s stories. Women’s roles in our scriptures are downplayed in their importance in our lesson manuals. Even on Easter the church put out a video about the experience of Christ’s resurrection from the perspective of Peter, even though it was a woman who was the first witness of the resurrected Christ. We were all told growing up that men means all people, that mankind means humankind, that brother means siblings, etc. “What I succumb to is making me numb.”
So I have to ask our male-identified readership if they have ever been asked to see themselves through the feminine lens. If they heard, “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Women,” would they think that included them because women means all people? And if not, why is mankind the default for all humans? If you only read scriptures about women or heard scriptures lessons taught about women, would you be able to apply those experiences to your life? Would you be able to stand in auditorium with thousands of others and sing that you were a girl and not be humiliated by it?
What a wonderful article! I love this so much. This is the struggle that I hear from many of my friends in the church. It is also still very true for us outside the church too, unfortunately. There’s little escape from that current reality. Being a girl is wonderful, but sometimes very frustrating in our current world isn’t it?
I was thinking about this recently as I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon in Finnish, and they only have one pronoun for both he and she. There’s no distinction. In some cases it actually allows more of a feminine viewpoint, because I can imagine the word “she” when it’s talking about God, instead of the English version insisting all erasure of Heavenly Mother’s involvement.
Excellent point, Risa. I think the Church’s continued willingness to use gender-exclusive language in so many places is just an excuse for continuing to think of only men as real people. It would do the GAs good to sing “As Sisters in Zion” in their meetings once in a while.
We actually did sing As Sisters in Zion in sacrament meeting last year. Maybe the idea came from our new young Bishop. I don’t know, but it was cool.
That’s great to hear!
This was what spun me on my feminist journey-the realization once I was pregnant that I had only truly identified with men, and did not know how to identify with women.
I wrote about it on Rational Faiths years ago, but since then have been on my own journey to try and identify with female diety and point it out to the men in my life. My husband was reading a scripture that talked about the Daughters of Zion and wondering who that was, and I said that can be a metaphor for all church members. Suddenly it hit him really hard how if I hadn’t suggested it, he would never have considered that a group of women could stand in for both men and women, even though women have to assume the reverse all the time.